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 blackbird

 Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets
 Molly Alicia Barth, flutes
 Nicholas Phontinos, cello
 Lisa Kaplan, piano
 Matthew L. Duval, percussion
 Matthew Albert, violin & viola

 [[ March 5, 2002, New York City ]]
eighth blackbird

 ALICIA ZUCKERMAN

In 1996, six Oberlin Conservatory students became eighth blackbird. Half a decade later, having won the Naumburg Chamber Music Award, commissioning grants from CMA (Chamber Music America) and Meet the Composer, and the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, they make their Lincoln Center debut.

The Chicago-based ensemble is still made up of all the original members, something that flutist Molly Alicia Barth attributes to their common mission: "dispelling the myth of new-music as a stuffy art form ... a lot of times new-music just gets glossed over in the context of an orchestra concert, and we're trying to change that whole attitude."

eighth blackbird focuses on repeat performances, a major issue in the world of new-music where world premieres are too often showered with fanfare then never heard again. "We're not a premiere-based ensemble," insists Barth. "We do commission a lot of works but the commissions that we do, we like to perform at least three times -- sometimes three times, sometimes 33 times."

The Lincoln Center program features Aaron Jay Kernis's 'The Four Seasons of Futurist Cuisine', based on a 1920's Italian Futurist manifesto by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti that applied Futurist ideas to an actual cookbook. The musical version will be narrated by the eminently affable chef, Mario Batali, famous for his cooking show 'Molto Mario,' on the Food Network, and for his four Manhattan restaurants, including Babbo (where snagging a reservation can be a practice in Zen-like patience).

"For some reason I thought it sounded more like a 'Peter and the Wolf' thing," recalls Batali, "and then I finally got a hold of the text -- and that's when fear took over." Seeing the score didn't help. "It's a very intimidating-looking thing to someone who stopped studying trombone in eighth grade," he jokes. But Batali is a pro. The self-described 'Italphile' was already familiar with Marinetti's manifesto from his days as a Rutgers University student before he found food. And after four rehearsals, he really likes the piece, which calls for the performers to speak, sing ('O Solo Mio') and even bark.

Among the evening's other works is 'Minimum Security Trailer,' a kind of movie-trailer concept -- a preview of the first of four works the ensemble commissioned from the Minimum Security Composers Collective, to be performed in full next season. One movement from each piece will be performed at Lincoln Center, each based on a single chord from Stravinsky's 'Violin Concerto'.

Also, George Perle's 'Critical Moments II', a 12-minute piece in nine movements, will have its world premiere. Barth calls it "exposed," "humorous" and "open."

Finally, there's Daniel Kellogg's 'Divinum Mysterium', variations of 13th-century Plain Chant, based on the creation story from Genesis.

As for the group's name, that's the accomplishment of violinist Matt Albert, who holds degrees in both music and English from Oberlin. It's from the eighth stanza of the Wallace Steven poem, 'Thirteen Way of Looking at a Blackbird':

 "I know noble accents
 And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
 But I know, too
 That the blackbird is involved
 in what I know."

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